Why: Azul Beach Resort knows just how to appeal to first-time all-inclusive guests. The resort has just 97 guest rooms, each featuring a patio or balcony, in low-rise adobe buildings clustered along the water’s edge. No activities director will rouse you from a beach bed to join a conga line (though a beach butler may ask if you’d like a cool towel or cold drink). The hotel has plenty of adult features—a bar dedicated to tequila, live music in the bars, menus with adventurous eaters in mind—but also welcomes families with a daily kids’ club and children’s selections at its four restaurants.
The Dollars: From $240 per person per night during high season. Kids under 3 stay free; older kids are charged 50%.
Who Should Go: Couples looking for quiet and romance.
Why: Live like colonial gentry at Casa Velas, a small adults-only, all-suite boutique hotel in Puerto Vallarta. The quiet grounds—manicured tropical gardens, koi ponds, a curvaceous swimming pool, inviting patios—and attentive and discreet staff will have you convinced that you’re staying at a five-star hotel. The oversized suites feature private plunge pools or outdoor Jacuzzis. While Casa Velas is not on the beach, it maintains a private beach club with its own restaurant, lounge, infinity pool, and cabanas.
Who Should Go: Surfers, active couples, and families with older kids
Why: This glorious arc of Pacific beach has attracted surfers since the ‘60s, and when you see the ocean from this vantage point, you’ll understand why. Getting in touch with nature here isn’t a challenge: without any more effort than a stroll along the beach or even across the grounds to the hotel pool, you can see howler monkeys, iguanas, raccoons, butterflies, hummingbirds, and parrots. A wild nightlife is another thing, though—travelers in search of a lively scene should take the $5 cab ride to the nightspots of Tamarindo.
Why: Many resorts keep you to themselves, but Mango Bay Resort wants to share you with Barbados. A friendly, small resort on the island’s west coast, Mango Bay is a stroll away from boutique shopping in Holetown and adjacent to a lively stretch of bars and clubs that cater to island visitors and residents. Guests are welcomed at the weekly street parties in town and local bands provide the nightly entertainment in the hotel bar. The all-inclusive rate includes a few off-site excursions, as well as resort activities like kayaking, pedal boats, and waterskiing. Lounge chairs stretch the length of the modest beach and around the curvy free-form pool.
The Dollars: Doubles from $460/night. (Mango Bay enjoys an active off-season for the Caribbean, so you may want to consider a hot summer holiday.)
Why: The brand has slipped out of its ‘70s ooh-la-la orgiastic garb here into something a little more family-friendly. Guests can practice yoga in a beachside palapa, lounge on a daybed next to the pool, sail, snorkel, or sea-kayak in the Pacific. The swinging hasn’t ceased altogether, either: Intrepid guests can learn trapeze at the on-site circus school. Young visitors are kept giddily happy at Mini-Club Med (with its own pool, restaurant, sports programs, excursions, and an arts-and-crafts program designed by Crayola). A vacation here is a like visit to a swank, action-packed summer camp, with the added bonus of mojitos and comfy beds.
The Dollars: Adults stay from $1,260 per person for a seven-night all-inclusive vacation. Kids stay free much of the year and special discounts are announced frequently.
Who Should Go: Couples looking for peace and quiet
Why: Guests at CocoBay know they’re in the West Indies. The individual bungalows, painted in soft pastels, have tin roofs, gingerbread trim, and spectacular, unobstructed sunset views. The hotel has furnished the cottages (and the larger “plantation houses”) with hard-carved beds and antiques and decorated them with colorful local art. The mood at the resort is tranquil, informal, and unplugged: no phones or televisions—and no kids under 14.
Why: While girls gone wild and their bachelor-party admirers whoop it up down in Cabo San Lucas, blissful romance prevails here. Popular for destination weddings (ceremonies are scheduled almost every day) and honeymoons, Dreams offers large suites with private terraces, three large pools, five restaurants, and lots of activities, as well as opportunities for leisurely inactivity. Special packages are available (for additional fees) if you want to play some of the big-name golf courses in the area or try deep-sea fishing.
Why: The water’s the thing in Aruba—aqua-tinted and so ridiculously clear you can inspect your pedicure when you’re in it up to your chin. At Divi Aruba and its next-door sibling, Tamarijn, you’ll spend most your time in that water. The two resorts share amenities: pools, a 30-foot climbing wall, bikes, tennis courts, a gym, children’s camp, and access to a neighboring casino. Though families and honeymooners outnumber other guests, the vibe remains mellow and beach-focused, not frantic with kiddie activities or bass-thumping nightlife.
The Dollars: Doubles from $512 at Divi, and from $488 at Tamarijn. Up to two kids under 18 can stay and eat for free year-round at Tamarijn and for much of the year at Divi.
Why: While it’s so sprawling that a mini-train shuttles guests around its vast grounds, the Melia Caribe Tropical offers a Royal Treatment upgrade which tames the beast. Royal Treatment guests can take advantage of the extensive amenities of a mega-resort while staying in their own wing, complete with dedicated butler service, as well as a private restaurant, pool, and exclusive stretch of Punta Cana’s spectacular blue water and bone-white sand beach. A beach concierge and runners fetch drinks and cool towels to your shady palapa. The distractions are many: golf, a climbing wall, windsurfing, a zip line, seven pools, tennis, casino, and a cigar bar. The Flintstones-themed kids’ club operates until the late evening so parents can enjoy some uninterrupted yabba-dabba-you time.
The Dollars: Junior Suites in the Royal Service wing (sleeps 2 adults and 2 children) are available from $410/night.
Why: Luxury travel agent Natalie Nevares likes the little touches at Ocean Coral & Turquesa: “Chaise longues studded with air jets are built right into the children’s pool, so parents can sit in the water with a pina colada, enjoying the bubbles and watching the kids play all day,” she says. Opened in late 2007, these side-by-side oceanfront resorts are still sparkling new. Guests share six restaurants (including a tapas bar), a spa, four pools plus a children’s pool, and a lovely stretch of palapa-shaded beach that boasts the world’s second-largest barrier reef right offshore. And because the resorts are just 15 minutes from the Cancun airport, you can catch an early flight from the U.S. and be swimming in the Caribbean before lunch.